In the common law system of the United States, attorney-client privilege is considered one of the most sacred principles of the legal practice; however, the multiple investigations surrounding New York attorney Michael Cohen are really putting this principle to the test.
As personal attorney to U.S. President Donald Trump, Michael Cohen came to notoriety a few months ago after investigative reporters from the Wall Street Journal exposed the clumsy handling of Stormy Daniels, an adult film star who had a sexual relationship with Trump in 2016. Cohen sought to pay off Daniels with a shaky non-disclosure agreement that never quite managed to keep the actress silent about her affair with the billionaire who is now U.S. President.
Just as the Stormy Daniels scandal was developing into a news media spectacle, federal agents and prosecutors raided Cohen’s office, filing cabinet and home; this action was pursuant to a search warrant that originated from the ongoing Special Counsel investigation into alleged collusion between Russian operatives and the Trump political campaign.
Sifting through Cohen’s files for the purpose of organizing discovery has been complicated due to attorney-client privilege issues. The federal judge in this case appointed a special master to ensure that privileged communications between Cohen and certain clients does not leak out in the course of prosecution; nonetheless, what has been revealed thus far appears to be very questionable.
As reported by the American Bar Association Journal, the investigation into Cohen’s business indicates that he referred major clients to firms such as Squire Patton Boggs, and he also took on clients such as AT&T and Novartis on his own, but the scope of the work that was promised to these companies could be troublesome for President Trump.
In the case of the U.S. Immigration Fund, the client referred to Squire Patton Boggs, it is alleged that Cohen promised direct access to Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and White House adviser. The U.S. Immigration Fund is dedicated to facilitating HB-5 visas to wealthy foreigners who can apply for green cards in exchange for investing in projects that create jobs for American workers. Kushner has already been criticized for peddling his influence to Chinese investors.
As for AT&T and Novartis, their respective CEOs have embarrassedly admitted that retaining Cohen was a strategy to advance their lobbying efforts. Prosecutors are also focusing on Russian investors who transferred nearly one million dollars to Cohen, although the reasons as to why the embattled attorney received these funds is unclear.